The primetime slate here in 2013 has been famously bad, even inspiring some fans and analysts to lament the sorry state of the NFL this year.
Well, there is no need for those concerns this week, with a glitzy big-game slate highlighted by what may be the two best primetime matchups of the entire season in the space of a single weekend.
The Patriots visit the Panthers Monday night in a potential preview of Super Bowl XLVIII, and possible rematch of a wild Super Bowl XXXVIII.
But first, Sunday night, the unbeaten Chiefs visit the one-loss Broncos in a battle that will be critical to determining the shape of the AFC playoff picture.
And the appetizer is a tasty one: the 49ers visit the Saints in a marquee late afternoon game and a battle of statistical juggernauts that will have a direct impact on the NFC playoff race.
Here’s a quick look at the Week 11 slate, with each game rated by average ranking across the board in our Quality Stats Power Rankings.
THE HEAVYWEIGHT HEADLINE BOUTS
New England (7-2; No. 5) at Carolina (6-3; No. 3) – 13-5; Avg. Rank No. 4
The Panthers had their coming-out party last week with their tough, hard-fought win over the 49ers. But they’re still just 1-2 vs. Quality Opponents and have averaged a meager 7.7 PPG in those three games.
Here is yet another test they must pass Monday night to reach the next leve in the eyes of the Pigskin Public: The Patriots over the past 12 years have been the best big-game team in the history of football, are defensively balanced this year (No. 4 in Defensive Passer Rating) and just hung 55 points on the Steelers in their last outing two weeks ago.
San Francisco (6-3; No. 6) at New Orleans (7-2; No. 2) – 13-5; Avg. Rank No. 4
The Saints are 5-0 at home this year, averaging 35.2 PPG and seemingly getting better each week, including the historic deconstruction of the Cowboys just this past Sunday. They are 13-0 ATS at home in their last 13 games with Sean Payton on the sideline.
The 49ers last week against Carolina averaged just 1.64 Real Passing YPA, easily the worst passing performance of the 2013 season.
Kansas City (9-0; No. 4) at Denver (8-1; No. 7) – 17-1; Avg. Rank No. 5.5
Denver scores 41.2 PPG, which puts them on pace to break the single-season record of 38.8 PPG set by the 1950 L.A. Rams, and on pace to become history’s first 600-point team.
Kansas City counters with a defense that is No. 1 in Bendability, Defensive Real QB Rating, Defensive Passer Rating and scoring defense (12.3 PPG).
The pressure is clearly on Denver, though: despite the historically productive offense, the Broncos essentially need to beat the league's best defense twice in the next three weeks to avoid a nightmare scenario for the team and the NFL: the very real possibility that the 14-2 Broncos could end up on the road wild card weekend against, say, a 9-7 Bengals team.
The Chiefs face a similar possibility, too, but without the same pressure of expectations.
THE WEEK 11 UNDERCARD
Baltimore (4-5; No. 16) at Chicago (5-4; No. 12) – 9-9; Avg. Rank No. 14
The institutional memory of the Ravens runs deep: despite the many well-noted off-seasoon losses, Baltimore ranks No. 1 once again on our Defensive Hog Index.
Chicago back-up QB Josh McCown in his limited appearances has thrown 4 TD with 0 INT, with a 103.2 rating, while the strike-from-anywhere Bears are No. 3 in Total Team Yards.
Cleveland (4-5; No. 21) at Cincinnati (6-4; No. 8) – 10-9; Avg. Rank No. 14.5
The Marv Lewis Bengals never seem capable of rising to the challenge of being a true contender. Andy Dalton has thrown six interceptions in the last two games, while completing just two TD passes, and has registered passer ratings of 52 and 55 in the two OT losses
Cleveland represents a tough challenge, too. The Browns rank No. 2 in Defensive Real Passing YPA, and No. 12 in both Defensive QB Rating and Defensive Passer Rating.
Minnesota (2-7; No. 28) at Seattle (9-1; No. 1) – 11-8; Avg. Rank No. 14.5
Clearly, this game ranks higher than it should because Seattle, No. 1 in our Quality Stats Power Rankings, is so dominant. Seattle ranks No. 1 in Defensive Real Passing YPA, No. 2 in Defensive Real QB Rating and No. 2 in Defensive Passer Rating.
Minnesota does not.
Detroit (6-3; No. 9) at Pittsburgh (3-6; No. 27) – 9-9; Avg. Rank No. 18
The problems in Pittsburgh this year have been very simple: a complete failure to produce any of the statistical signatures that make the Steelers the dominant franchise of the Super Bowl Era.
Pittsburgh is No. 27 on the Offensive Hog Index, No. 28 in Offensive Rusher Rating, No. 32 in Defensive Rusher Rating, No. 32 in Rusher Rating Differential and just two weeks ago surrendered the most points in franchise history (55 at New England).
Other than an inability to block, run or play defense, everything in Pittsburgh is just kosher.
Washington (3-6; No. 23) at Philadelphia (5-5; No. 14) – 8-11; Avg. Rank No. 18.5
Philadelphia QB Nick Foles was sitting on the sidelines at the start of the season; he enters Week 11 the best passer in football this year, with dizzying video game numbers: 16 TD, 0 INT, 9.2 YPA, 132.5 passer rating.
He faces a great chance to pad those already well-padded stats. The Washington defense ranks No. 27 in Defensive Passer Rating, No. 30 in Bendability, No. 30 in Defensive Real Passing YPA and No. 31 in Defensive Rusher Rating.
San Diego (4-5; No. 17) at Miami (4-5; No. 20) – 8-10; Avg. Rank No. 18.5
The Chargers are wasting another great season from QB Philip Rivers because they just can’t stop anyone. San Diego ranks No. 32 in both Defensive Passer Rating and Defensive Real QB Rating, and No. 31 in Defensive Real Passing YPA.
Green Bay (5-4; No. 10) at N.Y. Giants (3-6; No. 31) – 8-10; Avg. Rank No. 20.5
Green Bay third-string QB Scott Tolzien faces a Giants defense that has come on strong during the team’s three-game win streak.
Big Blue has held all three opponents to a combined 619 yards of offense. For a little perspective, the division-rival Cowboys surrendered 625 yards to the Saints last week alone.
N.Y. Jets (5-4; No. 24) at Buffalo (3-7; No. 26) – 8-11; Avg. Rank No. 25
The sad-sack Bills, an organization which can never catch a break, has suffered under the weight this year of a tough schedule that has included six Quality Opponents, tied for most in the NFL.
Buffalo has gone 1-5 in those six games, while being outscored by a TD per game (26.3-19.8). The Jets, for their part, are 2-2 vs. Quality Opponents.
THE STATISTICAL LIGHTWEIGHTS
Arizona (5-4; No. 18) at Jacksonville (1-8; No. 32) – 6-12; Avg. Rank No. 25
The Cardinals have won four of their last six behind a defense that’s strong and getting stronger: No. 4 in Defensive Rusher Rating, No. 6 in Defensive Real QB Rating, No. 7 in Defensive Real Passing YPA, No. 10 on the Defensive Hog Index and No. 11 in Defensive Passer Rating
None of that bodes well for the Jaguars who, despite winning for the first time last week, still average a 1930s-style 12.8 PPG and rank dead last in both scoring offense and scoring defense.
Oakland (3-6; No. 29) at Houston (2-7; No. 22) – 5-13; Avg. Rank No. 25.5
Several teams are searching for and may have found their QB of the future this year, including Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and, yes, the Houston Texans.
Local hero Case Keenum has thrown 7 TDs, 0 INTs with a 105.1 passer rating since replacing Matt Schaub. Now he just needs to win a game. And Oakland’s dismal pass defense (No. 29 in Defensive Passer Rating) is awfully inviting.
Atlanta (2-7; No. 30) at Tampa Bay (1-8; No. 25) – 3-15; Avg. Rank No. 27.5
Speaking of tough schedules, the Falcons and Bucs join the aforementioned Bills as the teams that have faced a league-high six Quality Opponents. Each has gone 0-6 in those six games.
Atlanta has been outscored 29-5-16.8; Tampa 21.3-13.5.
It's nearly impossible to believe the Falcons, 13-3 last year, the No. 1 seed in the NFC and No. 10 in our Quality Stats Power Rankings in 2012, have fallen all the way to 2-7 and No. 30 in our Power Rankings this year.